Credit: vgm8383 on Flickr, under Creative Commons
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)–On the sidelines of all the primary campaigns going on right now we also have a less-visible but important nationwide effort focused on gender equality in political office.
It is aimed at women who have not considered running for political office as well as those who have been thinking about it and need encouragement to declare.
Recruitment is the key to achieving this goal. “If women run, women win,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Emerge America is the fastest-growing national political organization recruiting women to run for office. Founded in 2005, it is currently working in 14 states to recruit and train Democratic women to run for office. (Emerge California was founded earlier in 2002.)
Each December, Emerge begins an intensive seven-month, 70-hour training model that to date has trained 1,275 women. Since 2002, 47 percent of its graduates have run for office or been appointed to a board or commission. This year, it has 179 women running for office. Six are running for Congress in the states of California, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Emerge success stories include Oregon’s Val Hoyle, who won a seat in the state legislature in 2009 and is now the Oregon house majority leader, and Wisconsin’s JoCasta Zamarripa, who became the first Latina elected to the Wisconsin legislature in 2010 and is now the Democratic caucus vice-chair.
In 2014 women have continued to lose ground in elected office across the country, finds a data analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics. The number of women running has decreased and too few are waiting in the pipeline to run when openings occur.
In their 2005 book “It Takes a Candidate,” Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox explain why women don’t run for office as frequently as men. Their research shows that:
- Women put families and careers first, entering politics would be a “third job;”
- Women believe they are not qualified;
- Women are not recruited to be candidates by their political parties.
Lawless and Fox argue that the gender gap in political ambition is derived from “traditional gender socialization.” The proliferation and evolution of women’s political organizations have the potential to turn this around.
New and Old Groups
Traditional women’s groups have stepped up their game and new ones are appearing on the political horizon. These organizations have created a national political infrastructure to recruit, support and train women to run for office.
The American Association of University Women, founded in 1881, has a program Elect Her that trains college women to run for student government on campuses with the goal of developing a future interest in political office. This academic year 50 campuses will host Elect Her trainings.
The National Organization for Women, founded in 1966, established a political action committee in 1977 to endorse feminist candidates in federal elections. With hundreds of state and local chapters throughout the United States, NOW’s PAC currently supports feminist candidates at all political levels.
The NOW Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the national organization, has a voter mobilization effort to “raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in the political process.”
The Center for American Women and Politics, founded in 1971 and the preeminent academic institution conducting research on issues affecting women running for and holding office, has a variety of booster initiatives. New Leadership, a six-day summer program, “educates college women about the political process and teaches them to become effective leaders.”
Ready to Run is a nonpartisan program that encourages women to run for office, apply for appointments and work on campaigns. Currently, Ready to Run has programs in 14 states. It has been particularly successful in training and electing women of color. As of 2012, the state legislature of New Jersey has 15 women of color, five of whom participated in the Ready to Run training.
Oldest Bipartisan Organization
The National Women’s Political Caucus, founded in 1971, is the oldest bipartisan national organization dedicated to increasing women’s involvement in political and public life. They recruit and train pro-choice candidates for all levels of government. This includes endorsements, financing and training.
The Women’s Campaign Fund, founded in 1974, is bipartisan and dedicated to increasing women in public office who support reproductive rights. Through their PAC and She Should Run programs, the fund provides early financial support to endorsed candidates from school boards to Congress and conducts research to help women gain office. Through its Game Changers program it is announcing new batches of candidates for this year on a rolling basis, with six new names released earlier this week.
Emily’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast) supports pro-choice Democratic female congressional candidates with early funding and training. Since its founding in 1985, the group has raised over $385 million. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, its donors contributed an historic $52 million for candidates.
Emily’s List has helped elect 10 female governors, 102 to the House of Representatives (25 from California) and 19 women to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, the roster of endorsed women includes such well-known names as Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray and Elizabeth Warren.
In 2013, Emily’s List began placing more staff representatives in local communities to scout for prospective candidates. Emily’s List Southern California Regional Director Heidi Lee points out that “by collaborating with local organizations we foster a greater environment for women to run.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation, founded in 1987, engages in policy development, educational conferences and grass roots organizing. It is affiliated with hundreds of student groups nationwide and has created feminist chapters on college campuses “to foster activism on campuses and to provide tools for leadership development.”
The Republican Majority for Choice, previously known as the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, joined with Wish List (Women in the Senate and House) in 2010 to recruit, train and support Republican pro-choice female candidates at all levels of government. The group is considered the Republican version of Emily’s List.
Some efforts in my home state, California, must also get special mention.
Close the gap Ca was established in 2013 and aims to recruit women for the California state legislature in 2014 and 2016. It identifies candidates and then recruits and connects them to resources needed to run and win elections. By filing time in California (Feb. 12), 76 women had submitted their papers. This stops the “slide” that began in 2012, but is a long way from the high of 97 women who ran in 2010.
Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, HOPE, founded in 1989, works to advance Latinas through education, advocacy and youth leadership training. Through its PAC, the group endorses and contributes to Latina candidates at all levels who “work toward creating public policies that empower Latinas, their families and their communities.”
California Women Lead was founded 40 years ago as an association for elected and appointed women. It provides leadership and campaign trainings throughout California with a focus on women interested in state and local boards and commissions.
“Appointments are an opportunity for women who are trying to balance work and family and to build a resume while preparing to run,” says the group’s executive director, Rachel Michelin.
To achieve gender equality in public office, we need to work harder to recruit more women to run now and to build a pipeline of women who will be future candidates.
Gloria Steinem said it best in the spring edition of Ms. Magazine: “People often ask me if I am passing the torch. I explain that I am keeping my torch, and I’m using it to light the torches of others. Because only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light.”
Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara.
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